Energy 365

"TRON" Style Beam-propelled Solar Sailing

The original movie "TRON" featured a breathtaking scene in which a Solar Sailer zips across the virtual world of the Grid on a beam of concentrated energy. The new film, "TRON: Legacy" will provide moviegoers with an updated vision of the vehicle (skip to 2:09 in the trailer) when it opens this week. The coolest part, however, is that this might become humanity's actual means of traveling to other star systems.

I've only had a caffeinated alcoholic beverage once. It was a Red Bull and vodka. After consuming it, I remember feeling the urge to do some jumping jacks, instead of, say, dancing like the other normal partygoers. That's it. But as you guys well know, caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs) are ridiculously popular. Head to a convenience store to stock up before a big night and you could encounter as many as 25 different brands of these beverages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heck, you can even find anti-energy drinks, as Robert noted in a post a while back. But what's so bad about mixing alcohol and energy drinks?

The No. 1 element has been on my mind lately and probably yours, too. With about 60 hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S. and a chain of stations linking the Eastern seaboard in the works, thanks to SunHydro, you've likely heard the hubbub around hydrogen vehicles. What other roles will hydrogen plays in our lives beyond fuel cell personal vehicles? With that in mind, here a couple of ideas, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program and its fall 2010 report.

Chilly English Apartments Due for an Upgrade

One of the reasons I love reading Victorian novels during the winter is that they feel cold. How many of the stories feature a protagonist huddling in some drafty flat? Or a forgotten opium eater who's frozen in his garret apartment? It makes me feel cozy by comparison when I'm curled up with a blanket in a well-insulated, well-heated home. But perhaps I could read modern British fiction and catch a similar chill.

Fusion Runway to the Stars

Whether you're a marathon runner, a dayvan cowboy or an interstellar spaceship, you're going to need to refuel along the way. Marathoners can just reach out and accept a cup of water from volunteers, and countless gas stations await pit stops from road-tripping van enthusiasts. But just where's a star ship supposed to tank up on fuel? The fusion runway concept offers one possible answer. I chatted with Tau Zero Foundation writer Paul Gilster on just this topic the other day and yes, scientists have given some serious thought to the fuel woes of interstellar travel.

Warp Speed Fuel Costs

I recently wrote a Discovery Space piece titled "Is Warp Speed Possible?" and the fuel efficacy issues really fascinate me. How much energy would you need to outrun a beam of light on a jaunt across the galaxy? First, let's refresh on warp speed travel. According to Einstein's theory of special relativity, light is the universal speed limit. Nothing travels through space faster, and approaching it causes time to slows down and mass to become infinite. In other words, cosmic fat days last FOREVER.

U.S. Navy Rethinks Fuel Tank Convoys

Fossil fuels are under attack these days -- literally. In October 2010 alone, attackers have targeted NATO fuel convoys in Pakistan on six different occasions, killing seven people and destroying dozens of oil tankers, according to Nasir Habib's CNN story. In one instance, 54 different tankers went down, Habib reports. When you think about the great, big lumbering trucks and factor in some basic military strategy, it's easy to see why the vehicles are picked off.

Wind Farms Can Change the Weather

Forget sonic headaches. The latest piece of wind-power news has to do with the weather. According to a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, utility-scale wind farms can change surrounding temperatures.

Sheep's Wool Insulation: A Sweater for Your House

Not much of the U.S. wool supply gets made into Donegal hats, Pendleton throws or $800 lamb vests. According to Fast Company, 90 percent of it is simply thrown out -- too coarse to make cozy clothing or textiles.

Project Orion: Nuking Our Way to Mars

Have you ever watched an action hero fly through the air, propelled in slow motion by the massive explosion erupting behind them? This slice of cinematic cheese gives you a decent taste of how NASA considered propelling spacecraft in the 1950s and 1960s. Dubbed Project Orion (not to be confused with NASA's more recent Orion spaceship project), this crazy-sounding propulsion system depended on nuclear warheads. You read that right, not mere nuclear power but actual nuclear detonations.